Copping a Job
Salinas voters tap an ex-detective as mayor, an activist for council and two incumbents.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
In the race between a scrappy and sometimes mercurial councilman and a low-key retired-cop-turned-private-eye, voters went with the powers of detection. Joe Gunter edged out Sergio Sanchez to replace ag businessman Dennis Donohue as the next mayor of Salinas.
Supporters who gathered at the Grower’s Pub in Oldtown Salinas led round after round of cheering as early results showed retired Salinas Police Detective Gunter poised to beat 10-year City Councilman Sanchez for the $800-a-month mayor’s seat.
Early results in the City Council race show voters also chose Jose Castañeda, a lighting rod of an East Salinas school board president, over Margie Wiebusch, a community college union rep. Castañeda’s election suggests those Tuesday afternoon council meetings are going to get a lot more interesting.
As of Wednesday morning, Alisal Union School District board president Castañeda was leading Wiebusch, a neophyte backed by labor unions and Supervisor Fernando Armenta, in the white-hot District 1 race.
District 6 Councilwoman Jyl Lutes, running sort of unopposed – opponent Robert Wallace dropped out of the race, but not in time to get his name off the ballot – handily won back her seat, while District 4 incumbent Gloria De La Rosa trumped businessman Steve Malvini.
If you’ve never seen a grown detective glow, you didn’t see Gunter on Tuesday. By 9:15pm, with only about 7 percent of the votes counted, the elections department reported Gunter had 58 percent of the vote, followed by Sanchez with 31 percent. Three other candidates – activist Margaret Serna-Bonetti, dentist Hla Myaing and realtor Rick Phinney – trailed far behind.
“I’m pretty excited tonight,” said Gunter, who received backing from the conservative Salinas Valley Leadership Group, as did current mayor Donohue. “[Tomorrow] we gotta get the work started.”
Semi-official results on the morning of Nov. 7 confirmed Gunter’s margin of victory at almost 20 points.
Wiebusch stumbled into the District 1 race at the last minute when Councilman Sergio Sanchez failed to properly file his paperwork for re-election. She was enthusiastic about prospects shortly after the polls closed, despite a looming District Attorney’s investigation into whether she lied in telling the elections department she personally collected all of the signatures to get her name on the ballot.
“I feel really good that I’ve done as much as I could do for this race,” she said. “I know I had a lot of good support. I ran a really honest campaign.”
Ironically, in 2011, Castañeda pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count for filing a false document in a recall attempt against Armenta. Castañeda, who led in the first results released by the county, said, “I’m in shock now… I can’t believe it.”
Gunter lists the economy and public safety as key to the city’s success. Sanchez has been on the council for a decade, but Gunter says he’ll bring in new ideas and new energy.
Sanchez also ran on a platform of economic development and public safety. He advocated for the creation of an economic development organization to oversee the city’s growth, and would partner with both the public and private sectors to create opportunity.
After the initial results came in, Sanchez said this was a pattern he saw in his first race.
“We’re still feeling pretty good and are in good spirits,” he said.